Friday, October 16, 2015

Keep the debates free

CNN seems to think they own the debates of 2015. This does not bode well for our democracy. Some may say that we had to pay to see the debates of October 13th, 2015. But I was lucky enough to be able to stream the debates live for free, even though I have no subscription TV service. Unfortunately, I could not watch it to the end as Daddy Duty called. So I stopped watching figuring that I could check it out later on CNN's website.

Prior to the debate, I did some research to see how best to watch the debates and found that CNN was making it available for free to all from their website. When I found the link for the debate on their website, I could not help but notice that "This is a temporary preview of CNNgo" displayed prominently at the top. Once the debate was done, there was no longer any free access to the debate.

After the debate, I searched for debate video on YouTube only to find many clips rather than the whole debate. I did find one nice HD version (720p) and even that was taken down by CNN copyright claims. I have checked the YouTube page for CNN and found nothing but highlights of the debate - the entire debate is simply not available. This despite the fact that by uploading the full debate to YouTube, CNN externalizes the streaming costs and could even generate advertising revenue for that content.

I then went back to the CNN site to find the debate, but it was only available to CNNgo subscribers. How does CNNgo work? To use it, you must identify your service provider, be it satellite or cable. Then you must login to prove that you're "entitled" to see the debates "for free". This is a clear play to bring cord cutters back into the fold.

Presidential debates are a part of American culture, politics and discourse. They are used to inform people about the candidates running for president. So, CNN would have us believe that we must subscribe to a television provider in order to gain access to public discourse. After a generation of such behavior, everyone will believe that we must pay to see what our politicians are planning to do in office before voting for them, right? Well, they are the Cable News Network, so I guess this is to be expected.

Truthout rightly calls this behavior the privatization of democracy. Once political information becomes the province of the highest bidder, then only the people with money have access to the information they need to figure out who is really working for their interests. This is not democracy being practiced by CNN. It is oligarchy.

I think it's time to set down some simple rules for public discourse. These rules should apply at every level of government, regardless of the branch (you know, executive, judicial and legislative). What our politicians and civil servants say should never be privatized in the same way that CNN has done. I hereby propose the following rules (feel free to chip if you want) for capture and dissemination of political discourse:

1. Everything that an elected official or candidate for office has to say is public domain from the moment it leaves his or her lips, spokesperson or website. It doesn't matter if it's captured as video, audio, or text. It's all public domain. If they write a book, that's different, but if they're playing to the peanut gallery, it's fair game.

2. From rule 1, it then follows that all political debates by politicians are public domain.

3. No single entity shall have the right of recording and/or broadcast of political debates. If more than one entity wishes to carry the debates on air, then a pool of cameras and audio recording equipment will be used for recording and distribution.

4. All media generated by any politician as candidate or elected or appointed official will be captured and maintained by the agency best suited for such purpose. I'm thinking Federal Election Commission or the Library of Congress at the federal level. At the state and local level, each municipality will designate their own agencies for such purpose, but they must capture all debates and make them freely available for viewing or listening for the citizens they serve.

5. The public domain shall receive the most favorable light in all judicial proceedings with regard to media generated by sitting officials or candidates for office.

This is just what comes to the top of my head, but I think it's a good start. In a way what I'm proposing here is a sort of public utility for politics. Once we can accept the idea that all political discourse is in the public domain, it becomes a lot easier to challenge attempts to privatize democracy.

Political discourse is not a privilege, it's a right to be enjoyed by all. Let's keep it that way by reminding CNN (and others like them) of their public duty as good corporate citizens to keep the citizens they serve well informed. Further, let's remind major media that when they privatize democracy, they betray the public trust so generously given to them.
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